My Very Different Adventures in Breastfeeding

23 Sep

My nephew Hudson was born last week. Oh my goodness, he’s just the sweetest little bundle! I just want to sit and cuddle his soft face all day. It’s my sister’s first baby!

Ashley and Eric did a pretty great job with him, don't you think?

Ashley and Eric did a pretty great job with him, don’t you think?

My baby turns three in November, which is beyond crazy to believe. I used to call Abby my “forever baby” because she was so teeny for so long. Now here she is huffing and puffing over naptime, telling her brother to “knock it off, knucklehead” and actually playing with her dolls instead of eating them. It’s gone by in the blink of an eye.

Sniff. Sniff.

In the last year, Jackson and Abby have gained three cousins. It’s been a virtual baby boom in our family. It means so much more to all of us to see each baby born healthy.  I didn’t realize how proud I would be to watch each of our siblings become parents for the first time. Holy cow, parenthood is one of the hardest, most rewarding things there is in life. In the beginning, it’s just really hard. Or at least it was for me. That first night we were home from the hospital with Jackson I just burst into tears. This little human being was relying on me for everything? But by the time Abby came, I was just so thankful to have her alive and home that I didn’t care that I never slept. I would wake up to feed her and she was like a little giggly, strawberry-smelling babydoll from my childhood. The culture shock wasn’t there anymore and it was just a joy. With everything we’d been through between Jackson’s cancer and Abby’s prematurity, having them both home and healthy made life so much sweeter.

There’s nothing like a content, sleeping baby breathing softly on your chest, smiling every so often (I know it’s gas. But whatever, it’s cute) and knowing that it’s you that’s made them happy. I was lucky to be able to nurse both of my babies. It was something that I wanted to do. Ev and I discussed it before Jackson was born, but Holy Moly, I didn’t know what it would be like. Incredibly sacrificial the first couple of weeks and then…absolutely amazing.

Jackson was always a cool cat.

Word to your mother.

With Jackson, I didn’t know what the HECK I was doing. When he was born, it was the evening of December 28. New Year’s weekend. The staff was minimal. The lactation consultant was nowhere to be found. So, by the time we went home, I was sore, cracked, hormonal and all by myself! With the advice of friends and moms, we got the hang of it. So much so that Jackson was 7 lbs 12 oz at birth…and 11 lbs even at his one month checkup. Ahem. He comes from a family of healthy eaters.

With Abby, it was completely different. She was born so little and medically fragile, that there was no way she’d be able to breastfeed for months. Instead, I hung out with the hospital grade Medela pump every three hours from the time she was born until the time she came home. I had freezers of frozen milk. We’re talking…FREEZERS plural. Since she didn’t eat more than a couple CCs (which is little more than a few drops) for the first month, she never ate all the milk that I pumped before we had to toss it. I would have donated it, but I was on multiple medications following her early delivery.

There’s a huge difference between nursing a full-term baby and a preemie.

Newborns, like Jackson, naturally have their suck reflex at birth. They can coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing. Preemies typically start practicing to suck with a speech therapist and a pacifier around 34 weeks. It’s completely exhausting for them in the beginning. Once they’ve mastered the pacifier, they move onto the bottle. Verrrrrrry slowly, milk is tipped up into the bottle’s nipple and the baby sucks it with their mouth. They choke, stop breathing and their heartrate drops drastically. There’s a lot of dinging from monitors, coughing and panic. Then once they’ve calmed down, they try again. Here’s Abby trying it out herself for the first time.

Just finished nursing this three-pounder at 11 p.m. in the hospital. That's love.

Just finished nursing this three-pounder at 11 p.m. in the hospital. That’s love.

Jackson’s latch took a week or so to get right. If the latch is right, there will be some discomfort in the beginning, but it shouldn’t be full-out painful. Usually that means you need to break the latch and try again. Abby always nursed with a shield. It was a God-send for her…I had her first nursing session surrounded by medical professionals positioning her, me, the shield, the cords, watching the monitor. Very little privacy and a lot of stress. Plus, she was only three pounds! I thought I was going to crush her.

At the end of the day, it’s all the same. We’re all doing the best we can and for some reason there’s always a lot of guilt that comes with what you feed your child. Take it from me: whether you pump for a g-tube, nurse a healthy newborn or formula feed your infant, it all comes down to just being there for your child and doing what’s best for you. For us, it was nursing Jackson for 13 months and Abby for 18 months. It’s what we chose for our family. And that’s really what’s most important!

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